“We’re riding a bit of a wave at the moment where the industry is a bit ripe for disruption”

Atomic 212° has had a strong year. With a slate of new business wins including Entain (Ladbrokes and Neds) and My Muscle Chef, its ranking as Australia’s top-performing independent agency by RECMA and COMvergence, and the announcement last month that it had retained the BMW Australia account, the independent media agency is finishing out the year on a high.

National managing director Rory Heffernan told Mediaweek this year’s successes were the result of 13 years of hard work competing against the big media agencies.

This year saw Atomic 212° top the COMvergence report as the highest-ranked independent agency for the first time, with $24 million in new business and a 100% retention rate.

“We’re riding a bit of a wave at the moment where the industry is a bit ripe for disruption, and it’s not just us. There’s a whole range of independents having great success at the moment, which is awesome.”

“We compete against the OMDs and GroupM, these behemoths. For us to develop in-house media mix modelling and econometrics, technology, and attention-based planning tools, it feels like we have completely levelled the playing field. It’s rewarding and exciting to be in that position.”

The agency’s strategic partnership with Mutinex as part of its Platinum Partnership Program has been another highlight. The partnership sees the Mutinex GrowthOS market mix modelling platform, and the marketing ROI metric will become central to planning and evaluating media spending at the independent agency for eligible customers.

“We’ve gone through a bit of maturity, where we know exactly what we can bring to the table. We’ve got quite a few more tools in the arsenal now that we’ve built in-house that we can put in front of clients and have real confidence that we can drive an impact, and that’s translating into all the new business wins,” says Heffernan.

Atomic 212°’s new business streak has included wins such as Craveable Brands, Entain (Ladbrokes and Neds), Victoria University, My Muscle Chef and Growth Faculty, as well as retaining Northern Territory Government and Tourism Northern Territory.

Its most recent success has been the retention of the BMW Australia account, which was announced in October. The agency has worked with the luxury motor vehicle company since 2020, and its remit will include BMW, MINI, BMW Financial Services, BMW Aftersales and BMW Motorrad. It will also include the BMW New Zealand media account, effective January 2024.

“We absolutely love working with that client. They’re such a fantastic team and brand, and I think the whole industry gets excited about that. A lot of the time, specific pitches aren’t talked about openly in the press, and that one garnered a lot of attention.

“It’s a brand and a client that people love working with, and they’re doing such exciting things as in the electric space. and I think everyone also knows the complexities of the brand in the account as well,” he said.

“So, to be able to retain and grow it into New Zealand is a huge achievement. I’m so very proud of the team that worked on that BMW and Mini, that was a big one,” he added.

The evolution of Atomic 212°
As the agency’s first full-time employee, Heffernan has witnessed the agency’s evolution.

From its early days as Atomic Search, through the relaunch as a full-service media agency to the current data-led, client-driven media powerhouse, which employs 166 people across its offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin and Auckland.

“It was a completely different business. There was only a handful of us working there in the early days, based out of Sydney, in a little office in The Rocks. It was a tiny space, one big table that could sit about six people on it, and that was us for the first few years.

“Back then, we were just doing paid search and SEO. It was like the gold rush of digital media; it was brand new, and we had some amazing early success with foundation clients like AMP, TAB and several others that were early adopters into this space.

“We were all upskilling ourselves as we went and learning new skills and channels as they came out. So, we were evolving, as the industry did. It was exciting, and we had nice momentum,” he added.

But the journey hasn’t always been easy for Atomic 212°. In 2017, the agency courted negative attention after actions taken by its former CEO Jason Dooris were exposed and plastered across the industry trade press. Legal action followed, and the agency’s reputation took a hit.

Heffernan, who was based in the agency’s Melbourne office at the time, says it was a “tough period” for the agency. While Atomic 212° didn’t lose any clients, he says it was a “shock” and “disappointment”.

“For all of us who have been around since that happened, to see the kind of success we’re having and the amazing feedback we get from our people and clients, it’s probably extra special. Many people probably thought we wouldn’t have even made it through that. To be doing as well as we are extra sweet,” he added.

Driving growth in new markets
Atomic 212° announced its expansion into New Zealand last month, and Heffernan is predicting strong growth despite the tough economic conditions.

“It’s a different market, and many operating principles and ways of doing effective media will translate. But there are media nuances and cultural nuances in New Zealand that are a bit different, and we’re excited to see how it translates,” he said.

Heffernan is equally positive about the Brisbane business, which launched in the first quarter of 2023, largely due to the city’s status as Olympic Games host in 2032.

The office, which launched with just one person before winning the Ladbrokes and Neds account, is seeing good growth.

“There will be a lot of economic stimuli on the road to the Olympics. We’ve already had great interactions in that market, and we’ve got strong relationships with the Brisbane media and a large client with the Entertain Group. So, it’s given us a strong platform to continue growing up there.”

The year ahead
The year ahead of Atomic 212° is focused on continued growth in terms of headcount, client billings and revenue. Another strong focus is investing in supporting its people.

Heffernan said: “What we’ve been focusing on is how we take what has Atomic successful, and what our core offering is, and roll that out to all these new people and make sure they feel like they know where they’ve landed, what we do and what’s different,” he said.

“We’re doing a lot of work on processes, training and defining with proper systems and processes.

“Heading into next year will make us more match fit and organised. We’ve got so many naturally gifted and intelligent people, and everyone united under the Atomic way of doing things is really exciting,” Heffernan added.

Article originally published on mediaweek.